43: Goblin Driver 9 – The Conn


To the people who don’t do the driving, ‘Meta-Space’ means some different kind of space where you can move faster than the speed of light. Rather than being a horrible oversimplification, it is actually dead wrong. You cannot move faster than the speed of light, no matter where you are. But, despite the classes during training and continuing study because of the annual Flag Officer Development Exams, I still don’t think I can explain it in layman’s terms correctly. I’ll try anyhow.

The ‘Bulk’ is an infinite existence greater than the Universe. It has eleven ‘potentials’ that can become ‘dimensions’ under the right conditions. But the ‘Bulk’ is not in itself Meta-Space. It is an infinity of infinite ‘sheets’ called membranes, and those right conditions are when two of the sheets touch. From that moment, two universes expand, one on each sheet, as ‘Big Bangs’.

Since adjacent spreading points are an infinity away, our universe will never spread into any other one on our sheet, even if another one does exist, but we will always know where exactly one other universe is. It’s on the sheet that touched ours nearly fourteen billion years ago, and it is right next door.

The other universe is so different than our own space that our kind of matter can’t even exist there. The alien stuff that exists over there is just as impossible here. So, that universe is not ‘Meta-space’ either. It is the synergy between it and our universe that makes Meta-space a thing.

When we transit to Meta-space, we don’t leave our universe, but we borrow the extra dimensions of the bulk to almost leave it. It’s as if we attempt to move to the neighboring universe and fail. We are technically never fully outside our own ‘sheet’. As long as our generators can hold a pocket of Normal Space around our ship in the interface between sheets, we skitter along the surface of our universe, avoiding the dimensions where we would travel in Normal Space, those dimensions where light travels. So, we do not in a strict sense fly faster than light. Einstein can rest easy about that.

But the sheets aren’t flat; they fold and crumple together as the effect of the collision spreads through them, and sometimes they fold all the way back on themselves, creating wormholes. You have to stay away from those. Forget Star Trek; going through a real wormhole would tear every atom in your body into pieces. However, the sheets also fold the other way. Everywhere one sheet is folded on itself, the other is wrapped around it. So every wormhole in the other universe’s Realspace creates a ‘fold’ in Meta-space, a sort of temporary Meta-space within Meta-space. This is impossible to picture if you stick with the ‘sheet’ metaphor, because it involves not just the two dimensions that an actual sheet would have, and not just a third dimension to make it a space rather than a sheet, but several more ‘potential’ dimensions as they become actual dimensions for a brief time in a limited region.

Our course used one of these shortcuts, a well-known one that comes and goes often. The Road Kings had learned from another patrol that it was open again, so it would still be available to cut our trip down to only two days each way. We just had to get to it.

# # #

Mo to Tapper, requesting closed channel call.”

I had been in my room, double-checking our course through my nerve-ware with the navigation system, and had a concern. Martins responded as quickly as the private call handshake allowed this time.

“Go ahead, Mo.”

“I’d like you to cross-check my nav. I’m coming up a touch off-course on my plot.”

“I’m showing us off the optimal lay by point-oh-five lightseconds, Mo.”

“Thought so.”

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“You don’t need to order a correction. Your number one is already dealing with it. We were out to point-oh-eight at one point.”

“Oh? She didn’t report anything.”

“Hah. I noticed the drift and private-called her. I was hoping to let her correct her error without the old man noticing. I think she might have been unintentionally matching us, instead of the other way around.”

The decision maker in a convoy is the lead ship, not the escorts. That’s either the biggest transport or the escorting frigate. In our case, it was Mo. So Martins had been obliged to follow Kirkwood’s lead. If Kirkwood had been unintentionally matching the escorts at the same time, they could have been leading each other into a course error.

I grinned. “Eh. Maybe I won’t say anything. Let her sweat a little.”

“It’s your call. Speaking of underlings, how’s your problem child?”

“Still a problem. Had to drop a hint that he was getting out of line a little while ago.”

“Oh?”

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“If I talk about it, I’ll get myself angry over it. And I only just gave him the warning, so I should give him a chance to fix it.”

“Mm. Well, make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. Although it sounds like you’re already handling it right.”

I signed off after we exchanged a few technical details on the upcoming fold transition and headed to the control room. It was nearing time to relieve Kirkwood. She was properly at the controls as I walked in.

And knitting.

I chuckled at the weird sight, although it surely wasn’t any weirder than if she’d seen me with a handheld game console while sitting in that same chair. Nerveware allows you to multitask quite a lot more than ordinary human senses and hands do.

There are limits. I’ve heard urban legends about two-seater crews getting themselves into dangerous situations while having sex. But that’s a whole different level of distraction than knitting, you know?

Hearing my laugh, she glanced over her shoulder. Her hands jerked a little, as if she’d been caught at something. I could read the thoughts in her expression. Well, he’s already seen the knitting. Might as well act like it’s normal.

So she glanced down. “Ah, this is a hobby. I suppose doing it at the controls might be a little off though.”

“It’s normal. Just don’t drift off the optimal lay line.”

With a quick glance away, she nodded, “Yes, sir. I’ll keep it in mind.”

See what I did there? Heh.

But then I noticed something. “You don’t keep it on auto/tend while you’re doing that?”

“Auto/tend?” she looked confused. “But I’m here on the hot seat.”

I had read her personnel jacket when she arrived. She was really new to Gobs. She had been a ‘training corps’ aviator, never quite good enough to fly single seaters. Most Goblin drivers and bomber pilots started that way. Never qualified to train on Banshees, sent off to training corps, which meant she had lost her teenage life on Earth. She’d had to fly as copilot for two-seater bombers and such, or as jetman for Gobs on long-range duty. So doing things through her nerve-ware had not become the second nature that it was for someone who had flown fighters.

If Red hadn’t qualified for engineering track, she would have ended up in training corps too. Being my plugger might have stuck her as a warrant officer for now, but she will get her commission too, eventually. There’s compensation for the delay in promotion for engineering track. Red will almost certainly be the chief engineer on a big battle wagon some day.

Kirkwood barely made it from Flight Cadet to Aviator before her eighteenth, so she graduated to looey as a patrol bomber copilot, then only made it to the command seat for a short while before moving to the big Goblin bombers… back at copilot. She’d second-seated there only two months before being stuck in medical leave, which I now knew was maternity leave.

In other words, this was almost certainly her first time at the helm of the lead ship in a formation. She’d simply been matching courses with her squadron, her entire career.

“We usually put it on auto/tend if we’re handling something else at the controls. You’ll notice the alert through your nerveware faster than the error itself, when it is having trouble holding course, or if your escort closes to a dangerous distance from you.”

She blinked, then nodded. “Makes sense. I wonder why we never did that in bombers.”

“Because you were flying in formation,” I told her. “Your lead was feeding flight data and you were following, and your escorts were farther away. It’s much easier than steering your own path. If you had put it on auto/tend there, it would have turned into ‘somebody else is flying the ship’ in your mind and you would lose your awareness. But the guy in the lead ship would have been flying it my way.”

After staring at me several seconds, Kirkwood noted, “You remind me of captains a lot older than me. How does someone get this way at your age while just flying cargo duty?”

I grinned. “Go over our old flight logs some time and have a look at the kind of ‘cargo duty’ Mo has been flying.”

Kirkwood wore a puzzled frown, then nodded. “I suppose I’ll have to do that.”

“It’ s about time for shift change. Ready to turn it over, Lieutenant?”

She pursed her lips, then said, “Captain, I’ve always just gone by Poppy.”

I nodded. “If you want, then Poppy it is.”

“You have the conn, Captain,” she stated, flipping on auto/tend and yielding the helm couch to me.

Sliding in and firing the control receipt sequence through my nerve ware, I answered, “I have the conn.”

I don’t know what it was about that exchange that made me feel this way, but I suddenly felt something I hadn’t felt since they first proposed renovating Mo.

I felt like I did have the ‘conn’, in its true sense. I had control of my ship.

- my thoughts:

When I first began editing the rough draft, I nearly deleted this chapter. It contains a lot of information about the universe of ESDF, but it doesn't move the story forward much. In the end, I decided to keep it. Writing a novel is different than writing shorter forms. Sometimes a chapter that doesn't have much actual story is still needed in the overall writing. I decided that was the case for this chapter.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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